Monday, July 18, 2011

Betraying the Holy Mission

Jeffrey Goldberg has a solid piece up on the dangers of Israel getting too snuggly with its evangelical Christian friends. He sounds some of the traditional refrains: that making foreign policy based on presumptive knowledge of divine revelation is generally unwise, and that the particular policy prescriptions evangelicals often support with respect to Israel may very well prove quite dangerous for that state's well-being.

But his final point may be the most important one -- at least rhetorically. While right-wing Christians often like to cast themselves as "unconditional" supporters of Israel, in contrast to their wishy-wash liberal peers, this is hardly the case. Just like the liberals, they have a particular vision of what they want Israel to do. And when Israel doesn't adopt positions consistent with those policies, they tend to lash out:
How will the Christian right feel if Israel does, in fact, make compromises for the sake of peace by “betraying” its biblical birthright? Some pro-Israel evangelical leaders already blame Jewish stiff-neckedness for the phenomenon of anti-Semitism.

In his book “Jerusalem Countdown,” Hagee writes: “It was the disobedience and rebellion of the Jews, God’s chosen people, to their covenantal responsibility to serve only the one true God, Jehovah, that gave rise to the opposition and persecution that they experienced beginning in Canaan and continuing to this very day.” The Jews’ own rebellion, he writes, “had birthed the seed of anti-Semitism.”

I’ve met evangelical leaders who share an unpleasant tic with Israel’s critics on the far left: They all hold Israel to an impossible standard of moral and political behavior. To much of the Christian right, Israel isn’t a real nation-state facing a series of painful choices. It is, instead, a biblical fantasyland, and an instrument of Christian salvation. In Bachmann’s case, it’s a living test of America’s fealty to God.

There's no need for conjecture on how some religious conservatives will react if Israel "betrays" them -- Pat Robertson famously declared that Ariel Sharon's coma was divine punishment for dividing the land of Israel (by withdrawing from Gaza).

In any event, the point is that both pro-Israel liberals and pro-Israel conservatives have policies they prefer that the state adopt, and ones they oppose the state adopting. Which is fine -- that's sort of the point of having a political ideology. But casting it in terms of unconditional love or support is simply a misrepresentation. Indeed, in a lot of ways, it is the opposite -- conservative support for Israel is not generally predicated on a fundamental commitment to Zionist principles (a Jewish democratic homeland), with policy preferences flowing out of what they honestly believe will best buttress that dream. Rather, support for Israel is instrumental to goals external to the Zionist vision, e.g., "to thwart the global jihad" or "to create conditions for the return of Jesus."

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